Joe (Josh Brolin) is imprisoned in a room for twenty years, for reasons he does not know. As his incarceration continues, he vows to seek revenge on those who have held him, and redeem his relationship with his daughter. When he is unexpectedly released, however, Joe is given mere days to find out why he was held captive.
In 2003, director Park Chan-Wook brought us one of the best films of the decade; Oldboy. Ten years on, Spike Lee has remade the film in an American setting, seemingly for a broader, Western audience.
Casting Josh Brolin as Joe was a touch of genius on Lee’s part. Brolin’s star has been on the rise of late, and he rises to the challenge of playing a man set to destroy his own life, then determined to redeem it. Elizabeth Olsen carries on her streak of making good movie choices as Marie. Olsen brings a tenderness to a broken character, although she has surprisingly little to do after the second act of the film. Sharlto Copley also gives a strong performance as The Stranger, making the character sinister yet awkwardly playful and forthright. Samuel L. Jackson rounds out the central cast, and while he is always entertaining to watch, it is hard to shake the idea that we have seen this performance from him before.
Mark Protosevich’s screenplay takes the bare bones from the original film, but has made a switch in focusing on Joe as a character, rather than on the vengeance he so desperately seeks. Much of the dialogue is expository and weak, the greatness of the original diluted in this remake. As well as this, the vengeance aspect of the film as been toned down, making the film more of a thriller than a film about justice.
Spike Lee obviously made the decision to keep as far from the original film as possible, and this is both a blessing and a curse. By following the same story, it is hard not to compare this remake with the original, but a shot for shot remake would have been an insult to the quality of Chan-Wook’s film. Lee directs capably, but the film feels as though the director was overseeing things from an adjacent room, which leaves a violent film feeling cold, and some of the characters more ridiculous than imposing. Sadly, the film turns from being about the mystery, to being about the characters, leaving the entire affair with a feeling of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo about it, rather than one possessed with justice and a touch of madness.
Oldboy is a remake we did not need, nor deserve. The film is likely to encourage audiences to watch the original – which is definitely a good thing – but this is a cold and distant affair, enlivened slightly by Brolin and Olsen, who do their best but are not enough to compensate from a film that feels like it’s treading water, and inspired by a Fincher film, rather than a Chan-Wook one.